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Production History

 

Introduction
"Robotech the movie" is one of those films where the story behind the making of it is much more entertaining than the movie itself. Unfortunately only one member of the production staff, Carl Macek, has ever spoken publicly about the film's production. He has always been vocal about his dislike of the film, and those who were in charge of producing and distributing it. Up until mid 2006, fans have only heard his side of the story and no one else's. In July 2006, Tom Bateman, an events coordinator at Harmony Gold who has seen the original first draft script of the film and other production materials, confirmed on the Robotech.com message boards some of what Maeck has said, but contradicted other parts of it. Mudding the waters further are stories told by fans, which through "Chinese Whispers" have been distorted and have strayed greatly from the truth over the years. In this section I will present what is known about the production of the film mostly using interviews and quotes from Carl Macek from 1986 to 2010. I've tried to make it as accurate and complete as possible.

Expansion of the Robotech Franchise
Poster for a sneak preview of the film at a Robotech promotional event circa 1985During 1985, an American company named Harmony Gold created an 85 part TV series named "Robotech" out of three unrelated Japanese animated TV series; "Macross", "Southern Cross" and "Mospeda". It was a major success, and a number of toy, book and other merchandise tie-ins also built on that success. According to Carl Macek, sometime in 1985 a local news reporter interviewed himself and other Harmony Gold staff while they were working on "Robotech" at dubbing studio Intersound. The interviews were for a news story on Japanese animation programming in the US and how it may compete with locally produced animation. The day after the station aired the story, Menahem Golan of Cannon Films rang Frank Agrama of Harmony Gold and suggested that they release a Robotech movie for theatrical distribution (1). Harmony Gold agreed to the deal and planned to release a "Robotech" theatrical feature with a timeframe sometime just before the Christmas 1985 season. Jerry Beck's "The Animated Movie Guide" book also states that Harmony Gold planned to use revenue generated from the profits of the film as capital to fund the follow up Robotech TV series, "Robotech II: The Sentinels" (2).

Realising that an animated film could not be created within the allotted timeframe, they looked at existing anime films that could be used as a basis for the feature. This is the point where the story gets a little murky. Carl Macek says that Harmony Gold attempted to acquire the "Macross" movie, "Macross Do You Remember Love?" (1). Supposedly Tatsunoko, the Japanese studio that produced all three series that made up the "Robotech" TV series, had optioned the film for a US theatrical release, in the hope that "Robotech" would be a mega hit. They refused Harmony Gold the rights to the film. Not only could they not acquire the rights, Tatsunoko put restrictions on the use of any "Macross" terminology in the film, such as "Super Dimensional Fortress", "Zentradi" and even "Protoculture" for any planned "Robotech" theatrical feature. But according to a March 1986 interview with Richard Firth, director of creative services at Harmony Gold, and published in the fanzine "Macross Life" in May 1986, Harmony Gold didn't want to use the "Macross" film because of the cost of the licence and that it "did not have much to do with what [the company was] doing anymore" and that "it just did not suit [the company's] purpose" (3). Eventually Toho International licensed an appalling English dub of "Macross Do You Remember Love?" to Family Home Entertainment through Peregrine Films in 1987, who then proceed to cut nearly 30 minutes from the film for a US video release.

Pre-production, the First Script and It's Dubbing
Macek on "Point of View" TV show circa July 1986Harmony Gold eventually bought the rights to "Megazone 23". This was a stroke of luck, as many of the staff who worked on "Macross" had created "Megazone 23", and it had a very similar elements and design to that of "Macross". Carl Macek, producer and overseer of the "Robotech" TV series, re-wrote the storyline to the film. Steve Kramer, one of the key script writers for "Robotech" was responsible for the screenplay. This early version of the film was set during the SDF-1's return to Earth after accidentally warping to Pluto's orbit in the third episode of "Robotech". The fan versions of this story and seemingly Macek's version of events supposedly differ greatly here from the actual screenplay. The story goes that the lead character was called Mark Landry, who was a relative of Rick Hunter. But Tom Bateman who has read Steve Kramer's script claims that it makes no mention that the character is in any way related to Rick Hunter. And the character's name isn't even Mark Landry, it's Mark Harris (4).

According to the interview with Richard Firth in "Macross Life", the script went something like this; The SDF-1 is making its way back to Earth after accidentally warping into to Pluto's orbit. A young man named Mark Harris finds out about Earth government's attempts to cover up the fate of the SDF-1 and the secrets of Robotechnology, so he decides to make the information public by using a transformable bike that he has acquired from a friend. But Mark's friend is killed by the military for showing him the bike. A group in the military, headed up by B.D. Edwards, who believe that Mark should be stopped at all costs and that they should be in control of the Earth. Firth's description of the script seems garbled at times, but suggests that the three girls (known as Becky, Stacy and Kelley in the final version of the film) know about the government's conspiracy and help Mark. He also says that the film "cut[s] back and forth from what's happening on Earth" (2). I am unsure if this means that they were planning to cut in footage from "Macross" or "Southern Cross", or if they were writing the script in such a way that it would have taken place in space and on Earth without any need for additional footage. Carl Macek, in a 1990 interview, told a similar version of the story (5). According to Macek the film was almost a straight dub of the original with very few cuts and only cosmetic changes, such as some of the dialogue and music. Bateman pretty much confirms Macek's and Firth's stories, and adds that most of the character's names are different from the finished product. Bateman's opinion of the script was that it would have made a "good movie and a fitting entry into the 'Robotech' universe" (4).

Opening storyboard sequence by Paul PowerAt the time of the film's production, Harmony Gold was working on another project, a 65 episode follow up to "Robotech" called "The Sentinels", which was an original production being animated for the US market by Japanese studio Tatsunoko. In late 1985, Macek left the dubbing of "Robotech the movie" to Harmony Gold's preferred dubbing studio, Intersound, so he could head off to Japan to check production on "The Sentinels". But upon returning to the US, Macek was a little horrified at the results of the dubbing of "Robotech the movie"; "I went to Japan with [Harmony Gold producer] Ahmed Agrama to set up the production of The Sentinels and I left the physical production of the script in the hands of trusted staff members. I was gone for about a month. I came back during the Thanksgiving of 1985 to okay the remix of the film to make it available for a Christmas 1985 release from Cannon, and I sat there in stunned amazement because what we saw was a really bad post-production job on this really cool movie. The end result of this first version was the most excessive use of 'Robotechism' that you could possibly imagine. Every grunt, every groan, every wheeze, every eye blink - [everything] was accompanied by a grunt or a noise, some noxious sound. The guy that put it together was so convinced that because this was going to be a gigantic picture on the big screen, that audiences would feel slighted if every physical move was not accompanied by a grunt". (5).

Strangely Bateman claims that he can find no evidence that Steve Kramer's script was ever dubbed (4), but he certainly wasn't employed by the company during the time the film was in production. A flood destroyed some of Harmony Gold's archives in the mid 1990's, so perhaps the audio and video masters for this version were destroyed. A ten minute promo of “Robotech the movie” (presumably intended as promotional material sent out sometime before the movie's July 1986 release) has surfaced on Youtube which contains a different dub, script and footage to that of the final film. It is highly likely that this promo was edited from the original version of the film.

Enter Cannon Films
Storyboard sequence by Paul Power. Not sure what this particular shot was intended for, as it never appears in the filmDistribution of the movie was to be handled by Cannon Films. Now Cannon Films were pretty notorious in the 1980's for releasing and distributing, quite frankly, exploitative trash. Some of their more notable titles include "Death Wish 2", "The Last American Virgin", the live action "Masters of the Universe" and "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo". Carl Macek's vision of the film didn't gel with what the head of Cannon, Menachem Golan, wanted; "What I didn't realise was that Harmony Gold previewed the version of the Robotech movie to the executives at Cannon Films and they freaked out. They didn't understand it; they didn't like it. There was too much talking. So they said, 'Cut this scene out and cut this scene out; they've got these girls; there's too many girls; get rid of this; get rid of that. I was told I had 24 hours to make a new movie. So I said, 'Okay, what do you I want?' And the Cannon people said, 'We want lots of guns, lots of shooting, lots of robots.' So I went back and took the most recent footage from Robotech that was available to me at the time, which was Southern Cross, and we edited the Southern Cross footage into Megazone 23 Part 1. Against my better judgement, I did the unthinkable. But everyone said it would be great. I said, 'Look fellas, Macross and all that Robotech stuff was done in 16mm; Megazone 23 is 35mm; it's going to look crappy when it's blown up. [They said] 'Don't worry, just do it; just do it; just do it'. So I did it. I edited together a new version of the Robotech movie in about six hours. I went into a meeting the next day. I played the film silent, and I acted out all the parts for about eighty minutes, and when it was over the lights came on and Menacham Golan said, 'Now that's a Cannon movie'" (5).

"Megazone 23" has a pretty dark ending, and according to Macek, he discussed this with Idol Co Ltd who apparently agreed that the ending would be unsuitable for a theatrical release (despite the fact the OVA had already had a short theatrical release in Japan). Macek commissioned a new 10 minute animated ending for the movie, using Harmony Gold's own script and US drawn storyboards. Somehow the end result was very good, and the animation was pretty much consistent with the existing "Megazone 23" footage, though this ending would make little sense if added to the original OVA. In 2007 at an event celebrating the 23rd anniversary of "Megazone 23", the ending was played at a fan event. Afterwards director Ishigoro Noboru spoke about the ending and claimed that he had no knowledge of it. This is rather strange considering it had been released a number of times in Japan where it had been included as a bonus in the English language dub releases of "Megazone 23 Part II". The movie programme for that film also had a two page spread pictorial on the ending. Confusingly in a 2008 podcast interview with Anime World Order, Ishigoro Noboru stated that he was aware of the new ending (but unaware of "Robotech the movie"), but had no involvement in it's creation. He also stated that AIC had done the animation and not his studio Artland, who had created the animation for "Megazone 23". Opening credits for "Robotech the movie" of panning shots of the sun and planets were also created by AIC and a "Star Wars" like text scrawl filling in the back story was also added to the film. 

Though the soundtrack contained a number of new songs, the background music consisted mostly of re-used pieces from the Robotech series and "Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years." The creation of sound effects and mixing process was at least one process of the film Macek liked; "What I enjoyed about it was I learned how to produce a movie in Dolby Stereo for theatrical exploitation, and it was done on primitive machinery that you'll never get a chance to use again. […] We mixed it at the Walt Disney Studios believe it or not. In the Disney theatre on the lot. And we had the people who mixed "From Out of Africa" as our mixing team" (1).

The Finished Product, the Limited US Theatrical Release and Fan Reaction
Ending storyboard sequence by Paul PowerThe film was completed in mid 1986 with a final budget of $8 million (according to Bob Miller’s 1990 article in Animato! Magazine) or $10 million (according to the March 1986 issue of Starlog Magazine). Either figure sounds way too high, as "Transformers the movie", released in August 1986, was budgeted for less than half that amount. "Robotech the movie" was was test marketed in 35 cinemas across the Metroplex area of Dallas, Texas from 25 July 1986 (5). According to a 1986 TV interview with Macek, the reasoning behind using the Dallas Metroplex area as a test market was because it represented "middle America", and the "Robotech" TV series had rated quite well there (6). Depending on who you talk to (or believe) the audience reactions were vastly different. Some said audiences broke out into hysterics. Others reported that concerned mothers left the screenings in disgust with their children, appalled at the violence in the film. Others said that there wasn't much of a reaction to the film at all. In the September 1986 Lone Star Comics newsletter, "The Lone Star Express", Derek Wakefield wrote a very favourable review in his anime column "Banzai!" and noted that the film "had several good reviews by critics" (7). The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the only paper in the region to review the film, gave it a 7 out of 10 score (2).

The film apparently was still in cinemas anywhere from three to four weeks after release. Despite the fan chatter claiming the film was considered a box office bomb, this was apparently not the case. Macek said in a 2010 interview that the film opened around the same time as two films touted as blockbusters, James' Cameron's "Aliens" and Roman Polanski's "Pirates"; "It did exceptionally well at the box office [...] 'Robotech the movie' beat the hell out of 'Pirates', and did respectable against James Cameron's 'Aliens', which was amazing to me. It did really well" (1). Surprisingly this happened despite the fact that advertising for the film was pretty poor. TV advertisements seemed to only play during the very early morning. Newspaper advertisements seemed to be limited to the Sherman Democrat, who only had very limited press materials provided by Cannon to create the ad; a one sheet movie poster and issue 8 of the Robotech Masters comic book. The resulting ad, which used the comic's masthead, gave the impression the movie was called "The Robotech Masters". Embarrassingly, the ad was changed for the Sunday paper, which now had the movie's title as "Robotech Masters of the Universe" (2).

Japanese storyboard for ending; Mark versus one of Andrews' men There were also problems at the theatres themselves, with the film only being shown in afternoon matinee slots, which meant adults and teens only had the weekends to catch screenings of the film (2). However an adult audience wasn't what Cannon Films had in mind; "When they got the demographics back, they realised - it was poised to open in 1,400 theatres a month latter - they got the demographics back, they realised 95% or more of the audience was adult. And [Cannon Films] had committed to buy time on every major kids program [...] they were going to market this thing to children. And it was reported that children couldn't stand this movie, there was loud explosions and kids were crying. It wasn't a cartoon for kids. [...] And so [Cannon Films] freaked out. They got cold feet and withdrew the film from distribution so they could figure out how to retool it and remarket the film" (1). This couldn't have come at a worse time for the film. Cannon Films was finically in dire straits after some very bad finical decisions such as the acquisition of Thorn EMI film group and a few too many box office bombs. The film was shelved and never got a nationwide US theatrical release, a television broadcast or even any kind of home video release. It's interesting to note however that at two Harmony Gold sponsored Official Robotech Conventions (one in Anaheim California on 4th and 5th October and the other in Philadelphia on 18th and 19th October 1986) included previews for the film, and that both printed programmes stated the movie was "coming soon to this area".

The final public screening of the film in the US was at the Second Los Angeles International Animation Celebration in July 1987 at the 2,000 seat Nuart Theatre. The movie played to a sell-out crowd (2). This final screening also saw the birth of Streamline Pictures, the US company that first brought Akira and many other titles to the US during the 1990’s. Carl Macek attended the film’s screening along with his long-time friend Jerry Beck, who was involved in the programming side of the event. Due to very positive response of the audience, they hatched the idea that theatrical Japanese animation could be marketed in the US (8).

Japanese storyboard for ending; Mark cuts off the arm of the enemy Hargun So while fan propagated myth that this movie failed due to poor box office returns has been proven to be untrue, it’s hard not to agree with most fan’s assessments on the quality of the film. It’d be interesting to know how it would have fared (both at the box office and with Robotech fans ) if given a wide theatrical release. You could probably count on one hand those who agree that it was a very good film, but as Hollywood has demonstrated before quality doesn't always mean success. There are plenty of hit films which are just appalling as this one. The film itself has many problems. It is filled full of plot holes and inconsistencies, and worst of all it fails to connect into the "Robotech" TV series. The movie takes place two years before episode 37, "Diana's Story". In that episode, the Earth has its first encounter with the Robotech masters, but according to the movie they've already battled with them and shot down one of their flagships. It's such an incredibly bad continuity error. The other major problem is E.V.E. If she was part of the SDF-1's computer, and supposedly a very important part at that, why wasn't she mentioned before in the TV series? Colonel B.D. Andrews' off screen abduction by the Robotech Masters was pretty absurd, and blatant continuity errors such as Mark's motorbike being destroyed, then seeing him ride the same bike later in the film are really annoying. The dialogue is pretty bad and the plot is rather hard to follow at times, as literally two stories are being told with two sets of characters that never interact with each other at all during the film. The jarring look between the styles of "Megazone 23" and "Southern Cross" makes things worse. Add in the fact that all of the "Southern Cross" footage in the film had already been seen in the "Robotech" TV series, portraying a completely different story and set of events.

But personally I find the film to be quite fun, albeit quite silly. And let's face it; the other parts in the "Robotech" franchise aren't exactly masterpieces. The constant changing of what Protoculture was in the TV series made parts of it incomprehensible. "Robotech II: The Sentinels", considered by most "Robotech" fans as part of the official story, is just as bad and as poorly written as "Robotech the movie" for most of its length. Interestingly the movie also brought about some of the first negative fan reactions against Macek. At the Creation Convention in San Francisco in the summer of 1986, (which Carl Macek was a guest of), a two page typewritten pamphlet called "Is Carl Macek the Anti-Christ?" was distributed by fans (9). The main point of the pamphlet was a protest against Macek's editing of "Megazone 23", though the resulting mess of a film was mostly due to Cannon's interference, and arguably wasn't Macek's fault.

Overseas Release of the Film and Future Video Releases
Japanese storyboard for ending; Becky runs towards MarkAmazingly the film managed to have a decent and somewhat quite successful theatrical run in Argentina. A video release by Tauro Video followed in 1987. Columbia Pictures, who seemingly had control of the Cannon catalogue in the UK at the time, might have been planning to release the film in UK theatres at one point. The British Board of Film Classification list the film as being classified in December 1986 and its theatrical trailer as being classified in May 1987 (10). It never made it to cinemas, but a VHS release of the film appeared on UK video shelves via Rank Home Video in 1988. The film also made it to video in various other European countries such as Sweden, broadcast on South African TV in the late 1980's, and was even released on laserdisc in 1991 in the Netherlands and Belgium, still in English, but with Dutch subtitles. The ending of "Robotech the movie" lived on as bonus material on later Japanese releases of "Megazone 23", mostly as an extra to an English dubbed "International Edition" of "Megazone 23 Part II" released in 1987. Harmony Gold and Intersound helmed production of this obscure English dub circa late 1986, but Carl Macek did not direct the dub as rumoured (1). Though for whatever reason, this English dub version of "Megazone 23 Part II" was never released outside Japan.

By 2004, ADV Films had acquired all three parts of "Megazone 23" and the original version of "Southern Cross". Material on the extras discs of their "Robotech" DVD releases suggested they had access to "Robotech the movie" in its entire uncut glory. They seem to have all the elements of the film they needed licensed, so why didn't they release it like just about every other piece of obscure "Robotech" related material they put out? On a message board I had read that John Ledford of ADV Films confirmed in an interview that ADV did have access to the film, but the company had yet to decide if a release was financially viable (this was reiterated at a number of ADV panels at US anime conventions). According to another post on a "Robotech" message board, someone also asked ADV's Matt Greenfield about it. His response was that they did discuss the possibility of releasing the film as an extra on their "Robotech" releases, but that never eventuated.

One of the probable reasons why it was never released was the fact that the producer of the ADV "Robotech" DVDs was Carl Macek himself. In an interview he said "I don't consider [the movie] to be a part of the timeline of the 'Robotech' era whatsoever. Really, I'd like everybody to forget about 'Robotech the movie' altogether [...] I am not anywhere near impressed with it". Though Macek also said this about a future release of the film; "It does not make it impossible for someone else to release 'Robotech the movie' in the future. I just don't want to be the one to do it" (5). Prior to 2011, Harmony Gold’s stance on any future release of the film was rather telling via this section in the FAQ of the bibliography of Robotech.com’s Infopedia;

"Robotech the movie" TV commercial"Q: What's the deal with the murky low-res cover art for Robotech: The Movie [comic book series]?
A: The animated feature Robotech: The Untold Story was rushed to market in 1986 through a limited release from the now-defunct Cannon Films. Producer Carl Macek was unsatisfied with the end result and fans had also noted its inconsistency with the Robotech universe. Harmony Gold has since elected not to continue the license behind the joint venture that had created this movie."


The last line in that section in the FAQ was later changed in 2011 to the milder "The license behind the joint venture in the creation of this movie has since expired. About a third of this project comprises Southern Cross footage that has been salvaged for inclusion with The Complete DVD Collection from A+E Home Video.". In October 2011, A&E released "Robotech: The Complete Series". This new box set finally included a version of "Robotech the movie", albeit with all of the "Megazone 23" footage removed, including the new ending animation created especially for the film. The remaining footage, almost entirely from "Southern Cross", clocks in at 29 minutes. That’s nearly an hour of the film missing from this version. As a result this version of the film is pretty much incomprehensible. Nearly 30 years have passed since the original theatrical release of the film, and despite the resurgence in interest of the "Robotech" franchise over the last decade or so, to this day the film has yet to be fully re-issued. Harmony Gold seemingly have no interest at all in releasing the full length film and seemingly neither does any other video distributor in the US or in any other country. It’s probably safe to say at this point there is no chance “Robotech the movie” will see the light of day on any commercial video format ever again.

References
1. Carl Macek, "Macek Training", ANN Cast, Anime News Network, 14 January 2010
2. "The Animated Movie Guide" by Jerry Beck, Chicago Review Press, ISBN: 1-55652-591-5 (Note: Jerry Beck was the man who formed Streamline Pictures with Macek, so the entry on “Robotech the movie” in this book is probably the most accurate account of the film's history published)
3. Marcoss Life Fanzine, Volume 2, Issue 3, May 1986
4. "Plot for the True Untold Story" [Dead Link] forum thread, Tom Bateman, Events Coordinator, Harmony Gold, Robotech.com Forums, 2006
5. "Importing Robotechnology" by Bob Miller, Animato! Magazine, Spring 1990, issue 20
6. "Point of View" TV Programme, KTVT Channel 11, Dallas, July 1986
7. "Robotech: The Untold Story" by Peter Walker, Robotech Research website
8. "Anime: Hollywood's Invisible Animation Genre" by Jerry Beck, Animation World Network, 1996
9. Carl Horn, rec.arts.anime, 14 January 1994
10. British Board of Film Classification website


 

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